Lady Macbeth tells the story of a young woman’s struggle when she is sold into marriage and how she will gain power and pleasure in order to amuse herself nonetheless.
Adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella, audiences are thrust straight into Lady Macbeth with Katherine (Florence Pugh) on her wedding day. As she gazes at her husband intrigued by what lies ahead she soon finds out that he is a demanding and abusive man. However, he is also weak and feels somewhat trapped in his life by his father who is also controlling and has little respect for women. Katherine’s duty is to follow a strict schedule dictated to her by the men which forbids her from indulging in even the most simple of pleasures such as going outdoors.
One day, Katherine’s husband and his father leave the estate on business, and she is left in the home with only the servants and her housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie). With the men gone, Katherine sees this as an ideal opportunity to explore the grounds and countryside surrounding the estate. On one particular occasion in the men’s absence, Katherine catches the house servants making fun of Anna and immediately exerts her authority and scolds everyone for their antics. In the process, Katherine catches the eye of Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) and becomes attracted to him. It isn’t long before an affair ensues between them.
When her father-in-law returns and later his son, not only are they informed that she has been leaving the house but that she has also begun a relationship with Sebastian. Despite being triumphant over the pair, Katherine’s affair with Sebastian does not continue happily and the events that follow only force a strain on their relationship.
The story presented by William Oldroyd in his directorial debut is an intriguing one and it isn’t any ordinary period drama. The action of the affair and the consequences because of it are explicitly shown and what happens, in turn, is captivating. You often question how far a young lady will go to not only obtain but sustain her stature and amusement.
There is little music in the film which adds to the suspense and intrigue of the production. This decision taken by Oldroyd also emphasizes the daily boredom Katherine faces from her routine in the early stages of the film. The omission of music through the duration of the feature works to considerable effect and what little instrumental sounds supplied by composer Dan Jones serve to heighten the closing of the film.
Florence Pugh in her first lead role excels and shows a depth of emotion. Ackie as Anna also gives a very reserved and understated performance which guides us to feel sympathy for her and what she has to endure as a housemaid.
This striking first outing from Oldroyd and his cast is a compelling watch even if it does take a little time for one to become fully absorbed in the feature. It is a simple film in that it concentrates primarily on the story and character, which can be attributed to the director’s background in theater. Even though style may be secondary in Lady Macbeth, it is the substance of the feature that is worth our interest.